Old-Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail
Ah, the Old-Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail. As opposed to the Whiskey Cocktail, one would assume.
Wait, let’s take a step back. Let’s drop the “Whiskey” adjunct and begin with just “Cocktail” for a moment. Bear with me. The earliest mention of a “cocktail”, i.e. the first instance in which this term was defined in print, was on May 13th in the foul year of our Lord, 1806. Harry Croswell, an editor and writer for the Balance and Columbian Repository, famously wrote:
“Cock tail, then, is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters – it is vulgarly called bittered sling,…”
Sounds like a reasonable approximation of an Old-Fashioned to me. Reference to this cocktail is intermittent for the next 30 years or so; however, a recipe of any kind is mysteriously absent. What can be gleaned from these references is that the cocktail had an air of notoriety about it; a drink fit for vulgarians and drunkards alone. In 1833 a recipe rises up from the historical fog, but that one calls for 3 oz of water to 2 oz of spirits, which won’t do at all. No, it wasn’t until 1862 when the legendary Jerry Thomas published the world’s very first cocktail book that we finally see what a Whiskey Cocktail was really made of. His recipe calls for a good slug of whiskey, a couple dashes of curaçao, gum syrup, and bitters.
From there the drink evolves to the Fancy Whiskey Cocktail (with the simple addition of a lemon twist), and then to the Improved Whiskey Cocktail (Maraschino liqueur and absinthe are invited to the party). A few short years later, bartenders – who were unable to practice restraint – were adding orange peels, chunks of pineapple, Dubonnet and all other sorts of rubbish. In a plea to return to the simpler, more sensible times of yore, drinkers began requesting that their Whiskey Cocktails be mixed the “old-fashioned way”. In 1895, after nearly a century of whiskey cocktail consumption, George Kappeler published a recipe for the Old-Fashioned:
“Dissolve a small lump of sugar with a little water in a whiskey-glass; add two dashes Angostura bitters, a small piece of ice, a piece lemon-peel. One jigger whiskey. Mix with small bar-spoon and serve, leaving spoon in glass.”
Starswipe to present times and we find that the Old-Fashioned is a contentious cocktail. Nowadays, myriad recipes abound. Some use rye, others use bourbon. What garnish to employ is often debated. Club soda is splashed here and there; and then there’s the issue of fruit – to muddle or not to muddle? There’s an old saying that goes something like this: “Old-Fashioned recipes are like assholes – everyone’s got one.” So, here’s my asshole …er, I mean, recipe:
- 2 oz. Stagg Jr. Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- ½ tsp. Demerara sugar
- 3 dashes Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged bitters
Place the sugar into the bottom of your mixing glass and soak with the bitters. Muddle the sugar/bitters to form a paste. Alternatively, you could just add 1 tsp. of Demerara simple syrup, but we’re making an Old-Fashioned here, people. You need to ask yourself: “what would a luddite do?” Then roll up your sleeves, brush off the dust from your muddler/discipline stick, and get to work. Muddling can be a great stress reliever.
Once you have vented your frustrations appropriately and are satisfied with the consistency of your sugar/bitters mixture, add the whiskey and give it a quick swirl. Fill mixing glass with ice and stir for 25 to 30 seconds, depending on the proof of the selected whiskey. In the course of stirring, look wistfully into the mid-distance and entertain atavistic thoughts of child rearing in the good ol’ days. Once chilled, strain over ice into an Old-Fashioned glass. Garnish with flamed orange twist. Mutter something under your breath like, “I’ll give you something to cry about,” then sip. Under no circumstance show any emotion that may indicate if you like the cocktail or not. No, you stow those feelings away in the same place that you put the whiskey: deep in the pit of your stomach.
Note the complete and utter lack of muddled orange slices, cherries, and other such absurdities. In 1945, Crosby Gaige, noted philanderer and president of the New York Wine & Food Society, wrote:
“Serious-minded persons omit fruit salad from ‘Old-Fashioneds,’ while the frivolous window-dress the brew with slices of orange, sticks of pineapple, and a couple turnips.”
Attaboy, Crosby. Adding fruit beyond a nice large swath of orange or lemon peel is an all-out assault on good taste and should be punishable by placing the offender in stocks so that he or she may be subjected to the scorn of all those who pass by. Perhaps the delinquent could be pelted with orange slices and atomic-red cherries in order that retributive justice be utter and complete.
Normally I would use Rittenhouse; however, a special little something something was recently left in my liquor cabinet by the Whiskey Fairy. Stagg Jr., little brother to the highly acclaimed and sought-after George T. Stagg, is aged 8 to 9 years before being bottled uncut and unfiltered. This particular release weighs in at a more than satisfactory 134.4 proof (67.2% abv).
Holy shnakies, this Old-Fashioned packs a wallop. Yip, yip, yip, yip, ah huh, ah huh. In the first moments, as the silky liquid glides across your tongue, you taste boatloads of brown sugar, honey, and dried fruit. This is followed in quick succession by a huge surge of arresting heat; we’re talking massive flavours of cinnamon, peppercorn, and cayenne. Once you survive this mid-palate wave of intensity, the heat crests, and transitions nicely to impressions of bittersweet chocolate, raspberries, and maybe oaky vanilla. The whiskey barrel-aged bitters add some complexity that this brute of a bourbon is otherwise missing. This thing warms you from the inside out. Outstanding.
This version is for those that like their Old-Fashioneds hard-boiled. This drink is the Dirty Harry of cocktails. In fact, I propose to initiate a motion to change the name of an Old-Fashioned made with Stagg Jr. to the “Harry Callahan Whiskey Cocktail”. All those in favour, say, “aye”.